Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has expressed the Islamic Republic’s support for the upcoming parliamentary elections in Afghanistan.
In a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul on Tuesday, the minister expressed hope that the inauguration of the new Afghan parliament would contribute to the war-ravaged country’s stability and progress and facilitate the democratic process.
Karzai expressed appreciation for Iran’s role in the reconstruction of his country after the US-led invasion of the country in 2001, IRNA reported.
About 2,500 candidates are running for 249 seats in the Wolesi Jirga, or lower house of parliament, in Afghanistan’s second parliamentary vote, scheduled for Sept. 18.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told ISNA that during Mottaki’s short visit to Kabul, he exchanged views with Karzai and top Afghan officials on issues of mutual interest.
He said Afghanistan is an important neighbor, noting that the establishment of stability and security in the Muslim country and implementation of joint economic projects would be in the interest of the two peoples.
“Afghanistan is an important country for Iran. Such trips are normal, the recent trip mainly focused on potentials for expanding bilateral cooperation,” he added.
Afghan president’s press office released a statement saying Mottaki arrived in Afghanistan to back the country’s parliamentary elections.
Tehran says it is willing and able to play a bigger role in post-war reconstruction in Afghanistan and help address the grave problem of poppy cultivation.
Iran has donated $560 million dollars for the reconstruction of Afghanistan.
Tehran is also critical of the US and NATO for failing to curb terrorism and drug trafficking in the impoverished country that has been in the grip of foreign wars, internal fighting and extremism for more than three decades.
PGCC Stance on 3 Islands Unfounded
Iran dismissed a statement issued by the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (PGCC) and said the three Persian Gulf islands of Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa will forever remain Iranian territory.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast on Tuesday rejected the PGCC claim as “repetitive and unfounded,” reiterating that the three islands are inalienable part of Iran, Presstv reported.
The reaction came after foreign ministers of the PGCC, an economic and political union involving six Persian Gulf states, in a statement Monday again backed the UAE claim over ownership of the strategic islands.
Mehmanparast said the PGCC is meddling in Iran’s domestic affairs by routinely laying claim to the islands
Such false claims, which clearly contradict historical facts, are made to divert public attention in their countries on important regional issues including Israeli atrocities in Palestine.
The islands of Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa were historically owned by Iran, but temporarily fell under British control.
The islands were returned to Iran in November 1971 through a legal process and much before the United Arab Emirates was born.
2-Day Holiday for Eid-ul-Fitr
The day after Eid-ul-Fitr was declared a public holiday.
First Vice President Mohammad-Reza Rahimi said Wednesday the government has decided to declare the day after the annual festival a public holiday to give people the opportunity to enjoy the auspicious occasion with more time and leisure, IRNA reported.
He said September 11 will be a holiday only if Friday (Sept. 10) is celebrated as the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
According to the official, government employees will compensate for the one day during the working days throughout the year.
According to the calendar, the holy fasting month this year ends on September 10 and will be 29 days. But if the month is extended to 30 days, then Saturday will mark Eid day.
MP Censures France, Italy Over Stoning Case
The Human Rights Committee of the Majlis censured France and Italy for supporting an Iranian woman facing murder and adultery charges, a lawmaker said on Wednesday.
“The stances adopted by France and Italy on the case are indeed examples of their interference in Iran’s judicial and internal affairs,” IRNA quoted Zohreh Elahian as saying.
“Such approaches are unlawful and are a propaganda ploy against the Islamic Republic,” the member of the Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Commission said.
The case of Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani, 43, has long been in the spotlight, after her conviction for adultery and pending charges that she also was involved in killing her husband. Western governments have demanded a review of the sentence.
On Tuesday Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said Iran would not allow the controversy over the case, in which Ashtiani has been sentenced to death by stoning, turn into a political issue.
“The case of a murder suspect should not be turned into a political and human rights issue,” he said.
“Some western officials, including the foreign ministers of France [Bernard Kouchner] and Italy [Franco Frattini], have got involved in the case…regrettably on the basis of wrong information”, he told reporters.
He noted that Ashtiani was charged with both adultery and murder, adding that the murder charge is still under investigation.
Bahrain Ties Cordial
Bahrain’s acting foreign minister Nazar bin-Sadeq Al-Bharna said Manama-Tehran relations are excellent.
“Expansion of relations between Iran and Bahrain and the two countries’ ties with the rest of the region is of great importance in light of regional and global developments,” IRNA quoted Al-Bharna as saying during a meeting with outgoing Iranian ambassador Hussein Amir-Abdollahian.
According to a report by Iran’s Embassy in Bahrain, the Bahraini minister and Abdollahian reviewed two-way relations in diverse fields and pointed to the potential for closer cooperation in political, economic and defense fields.
The outgoing ambassador also agreed with Al-Bharna on the excellent and improving ties.
He said Iran’s strategy is to expand relations with all countries, particularly Arab and Middle East states. “Such policies serve the region’s peace, stability and progress.”
Gov’t Cautioned About Subsidy Plan
The government’s plans to scrap subsidies should not lead to “political dispute” in the country, head of the Supreme Audit Court warned Monday.
“The implementation of the subsidy plan should not lead to political disputes and factional conflict,” Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli told ISNA in an interview.
He called on the government to inform the people of the “repercussions” of the plan, like the one that will lead to “increase in prices.”
“Implementation of the (subsidy) reform plan will lead to price increases,” he noted.
The Supreme Audit Court is a body affiliated to the Majlis.
The government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad plans to implement later this month a plan to phase out annually up to $20 billion in state subsidies on basic goods, namely food and utilities (fuel, electricity, gas…)
Observers and experts across the political spectrum have cautioned about the plan, saying it could trigger a jump in prices, hyperinflation and by extension public frustration.
Rahmani-Fazli also questioned the government’s implementation of the privatization policy, under Article 44 of the Constitution.
He said most state companies have been handed over to “semi-official” companies and the “private sector has hardly been involved in 15 percent of the transactions and change of ownership”.
Also known as the “targeted subsidy plan”, it aims to ease the heavy burden of billions of dollars of subsidies on state coffers.
Aim of the major plan is to gradually remove the expensive state subsidies on key consumer goods, including food and energy, and redistribute the money thus saved among the needy and low-income households.
The government says if the plan is implemented, “there will be no poor person in the country” and the public’s economic status will “definitely improve.”
Direct and indirect subsidies on goods cost the government an estimated $100 billion a year.
The Ahmadinejad administration wants to save up to $100 billion annually from subsidies on gasoline, natural gas, electricity, water, food, health and education.
Petrol stations presently sell both domestically made and imported unleaded petrol at 1,000 rials per liter (10 US cents) and charge 1,500 rials per liter (15 US cents) for higher-quality super unleaded petrol.
Electricity costs six cents per 10 kilowatt hours.
It is said that the lifting of subsidies will take place in stages and be ended by the end of the country’s fifth Five-Year Economic Development Plan in 2015.
Some experts say removing the subsidies will help make Iran much less vulnerable to western sanctions, for example regarding gasoline imports.
The government plans to open “bank accounts for 36 million people” to hand out cash to compensate for the higher food and energy prices that will follow in the process of lifting the three-decade-old subsidies.
Quake in Roudbar
An earthquake measuring 4.3 on the Richter scale jolted the town of Roudbar in northern Gilan province on Wednesday.